Thursday, 26 January 2012

Dust and Fever.

Yesterday I broke up with someone I love. Today I am already in the desert in Uganda. I am wandering around abandoned houses, sumptuous before - ruined now. I am looking straight into the eyes of defaced Queen Victoria. I am breathing dust. I am out of time. I am at Whitechapel Gallery at Zarina Bimji's exhibition.

Photography is an art of stopping the time. But what about photographing places, where the time has already stopped?

Zarina Bhimji was born to an Indian family in Uganda and got deported from there in 1972 under the regime of Idi Amin. The exhibition is the first major retrospective of 25 years of her work featuring the premiere of the Yellow Patch (2011) film. Choosing migration, movement and change as her main subject she depicted these in the ruins hunted with echoes of past. It's a journey across the ocean, from Uganda to India. It's a journey you meet not a single human being on. A journey through still lives. It seems like there was no one standing behind the camera in these settings.

This Unhinged Her, 1998-2006
Breathless Love, 2007
Memories Were Trapped Inside the Asphalt (1998-2003)
Bapa Closed His Heart, It Was Over (2001-06)

All of these images are a part of the thorough research, a sort of the photographic storyboard for the Yellow Patch. The world wide web generously provides us with some beautiful shots from the film. All shot in India. Locations include Mumbai, Kutch and Gujarat.

Time is the master of still life. Time is the master of life.

Yellow Patch gave me a feeling of sad contemplative nirvana (if nirvana can ever be sad?). I was floating in the air with the dust. I was a tired half-constructed ship resting in the gloomy harbour. I decided to reject the political agenda, as it was recommended in the exhibition description and opted for the empirical interpretation. The whole series featured above are called Love, by the way. Can you figure out why?

Meanwhile the second floor of the gallery is far more political, showcasing artist's early work. She Love To Breath - Pure Silence from 1987 is an installation that screams in pain.
It needs a preface. The whole thing is devoted to the virginity tests South Asian women were forced to undergo in order to cross the UK border. Indian spices scattered around the floor, prints and fabric placed between perspex are hanging from above. Here are some of them.

Law, humilation, women. It's all about private and touchy becoming public and political. How much of silent rebellion can ever be hidden in art? Silence becomes something different when viewed through Zarina Bhimji's lens. Her photographs and films (that resemble more of a slide show) are incredibly light, peaceful, dusty and tough to contemplate at the time.

Today I was looking out for harmony and went feverish instead. Frankly, I can't even think of Bhimji's art anymore. It becomes too hard to bear. Maybe you will have a different perception? Maybe that is something being in my mind for the whole day that alters my own? I assume, it's love. And I totally agree with Bhemjin's series Red and Wet. Love is like malaria. Love brings us fever.

Tropical, 2000 

Fever, 2000

Zarina Bhimji's solo exhibition is on in Whitechapel Gallery, London till 9 March 2012. Admission free. 


  1. Cherie, what a great way of intertwining your appreciation for Bhimji's artwork along with a dash of your lovely personality. Thoroughly enjoyable read.

  2. This is a beautifully written post. Ideally add a link at the bottom too so it's easy to check exhibition times. Nicola